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Japanese Industrial History: Technology, Urbanization, and Economic Growth

Author(s):Mosk, Carl
Reviewer(s):Metzler, Mark

Published by EH.NET (January 2002)

Carl Mosk, Japanese Industrial History: Technology, Urbanization, and

Economic Growth. Armonk, NY and London: M. E. Sharpe, 2001. xviii + 293

pp. $68.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-7656-0700-X; $26.95 (paper), ISBN: 0-7656-0701-8.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Mark Metzler, Department of History, Oakland


In less than 300 pages, Carl Mosk, veteran economic historian and demographer

and Professor of Economics at the University of Victoria, has put together an

ambitious and original synthesis of Japanese economic history that spans the

period from the seventeenth century to the mid twentieth century. Mosk returns

to the fundamental question of the sources of Japanese growth and in doing so

he opens up several new lines of inquiry. The results provide valuable

material for further analysis and debate, and, as Mosk suggests, may be widely

applicable to the experience of other countries.

Japanese Industrial History is really two, or perhaps three, books in

one. First, it is an account of Japanese growth set within a framework of

economic long swings. Second, it is an analysis of the geography of growth in

the Tokaido industrial belt, taking the city of Osaka as its primary subject.

Finally, employing this chronological and geographical framework, Mosk surveys

Japan’s modern industrial and urban history in general. Mosk ties together

these analytical threads with six propositions concerning what he calls

“infrastructure-driven growth” (pp. xv, 7-23). First, he gives Japanese long

swings a Schumpeterian character as “wave[s] of innovation, imitation, and

creative destruction.” Second, investment in infrastructure — “physical,

human capital enhancing, and financial” — laid the groundwork for industrial

expansion in the upswing phases of these long swings. Third, the national and

local governments acted as “coordinating and facilitating” agents in creating

infrastructure. Fourth, this long-swing development “followed a domestic logic

tempered by global circumstances.” Fifth, “the efficiency of infrastructure

investment . . . was enhanced by the concentration of infrastructure

investment and manufacturing in the Tokaido industrial belt” that stretches

from Kobe and Osaka in the west to Yokohama and Tokyo in the east. Finally,

the core of this core region shifted over the period in question from Osaka to


Mosk’s focus on Osaka, with its complex layering of infrastructure and

“remarkable density of diversity,” seems especially well chosen to this

admittedly Osakaphilic reviewer. First, Osaka and its region formed the

economic “core of the core,” as Mosk puts it, as late as the 1910s. Second,

most modern economic-historical accounts are Tokyo-centric, and much is gained

from shifting the standard point of view. The focus on infrastructure and the

slicing of time into long-swing periods are also highly original and

effective. The analytical pay-offs of this approach appear throughout Mosk’s

study, which begins with an introductory chapter on the Tokugawa period and

then concentrates on what Mosk calls the “balanced growth” long swing of

1887-1904 and the “transitional” and “unbalanced growth” long swings of

1904-1930 and 1930-1938. Chapters that survey the themes of infrastructure,

factories, and cities, offering many valuable insights, round out the book.

Mosk’s long-swing chronology, derived from the econometric work of Ohkawa

Kazushi and associated contributors to the Long-Term Economic Statistics

project,1 is as follows: Balanced-growth long swing: upswing, 1887-1897;

downswing, 1897-1904 Transitional-growth long swing: first upswing,

1904-1911; second upswing, 1911-1919; downswing, 1919-1930

Unbalanced-growth long swing: upswing, 1930-1938 Mosk considers the

World War II era as an exceptional interruption to the growth process rather

than as part of a post-1938 downswing. A renewed upswing comes with the era of

high-speed growth, from 1953 to 1969. This dating of long swings is taken as

an initial starting point rather than argued through in detail. It also

contains problems that deserve some attention. For one, different analysts

(e.g., Nishikawa and Abe, 1990) have given somewhat different datings.2 Also

problematic is the characterization of the decade after the Russo-Japanese War

of 1904-05, which is identified as part of an upswing in both long-swing

chronologies. Here, apparently calculating from seven-year moving averages,

Mosk gives average per annum GDP growth for the “first upswing” of 1904-11 as

2.6%, which barely exceeds the average rate of 2.5% for the downswing of

1919-30 (Table 4.1, p. 120). He also shows that gross national expenditure and

disposable income per capita actually grew faster during the downswing of the

1920s than during the supposed upswing phase of 1904-11. If a different

reference period is chosen (say, 1907-1914), much of this “upswing” looks even

more like a downswing, indicating why scholars such as Nagaoka Shinkichi

(1971) have characterized the phase after 1907 as one of chronic recession.3

The use of moving averages here can be misleading, as it averages the

extraordinary growth of the World War I era with the very slow growth of the

several years immediately preceding the war. This is one point that suggests

how Mosk’s long-swing analysis could benefit by being articulated with an

account of shorter-term business cycles.

There are also problems with the attribution to infrastructure of the status

of prime mover, a claim that is not always fully argued in the context of

competing explanations. For instance, were infrastructure limitations really a

leading factor in the relative stagnation of the 1920s? Or is the slowdown

better explained, as many people explained it at the time, as a matter of

excess capacity and bad debts following the great wartime boom, exacerbated by

postwar deflation and an overvalued exchange rate? A broader problem is Mosk’s

definition of the term infrastructure itself, which at some points

seems to encompass the whole social and political order. Thus, Mosk concludes

that “the [Tokugawa] bakuhan system collapsed because its entire

infrastructure was increasingly viewed as inadequate” (p. 51). Or, in the

1920s, problems of credit creation are subsumed under the rubric of

infrastructure (p. 125). All the same, the infrastructure thesis is on the

whole convincing, and by deploying it so fully, Mosk is able to offer readers

a range of fresh perspectives.

Finally, a few words of criticism are in order from the standpoint of visual

communication. For a work of economic geography, there are few maps, and none

of them is very detailed. One wishes that the publisher had seen fit to

include not only a set of richly detailed maps but also a set of photographs

and other illustrations. The beautiful frontispiece of Osaka in 1924,

apparently reduced from a very large original, is more decorative than

functional and deserves to be reproduced in sections at an enlarged scale and

given detailed analytical attention. As it is, the reader who is unfamiliar

with Japan or even the reader unfamiliar with Osaka will find it difficult to

visualize many of the places and processes under discussion, rendering the

discussion unnecessarily abstract. Unless one sees it, for example, it is hard

to comprehend the sheer scale of the great Keihin (Tokyo-Kawasaki-Yokohama)

industrial complex, not to mention its density, which is probably without

parallel anywhere in the world, nor is it easy to grasp the character of

Osaka’s Nanba and Umeda complexes with which Mosk begins his account. With the

appropriate visual devices added, Japanese Industrial History could

double as a superior text for undergraduate courses in Japanese or

international economic history. A brief appendix summarizing the basic

national production statistics that Mosk relies on would also have been

useful. As it is, only tables giving moving averages for predefined long-swing

periods are given, leaving a considerable amount of legwork for readers who

might want to consider alternative ways of reading the evidence.

These are criticisms meant to suggest the value of the book. In the end,

Japanese Industrial History very usefully raises many more questions

than it answers. Mosk’s analytical narrative is big enough, rich enough, and

open-ended enough to make one hope for more — a future revised edition or

major follow-on volume. It would be especially valuable to carry Mosk’s

infrastructure-centered analysis into the post-World War II period, when Japan

has undergone what has surely been one of the greatest campaigns of building

(and overbuilding) of infrastructure ever seen.

Notes: 1. Ohkawa Kazushi, et al., Choki keizai tokei, 1, Kokumin shotoku

[Long-term economic statistics: National income]. Tokyo: Toyo Keizai

Shinposha, 1974. The long-swing schema is laid out on pp. 14-19.

2. Nishikawa Shunsaku and Abe Takeshi, “Gaisetsu, 1885-1914 nen” [Outline,

1885-1914]. In Nishikawa and Abe, editors, Sangyoka no jidai (jo), Vol.

4 of Nihon keizai shi, Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1990, pp. 1-77. Their

dating of long swings is as follows: upswing, 1883-1892; downswing, 1892-1903;

upswing, 1903-1917; downswing, 1917-1928; upswing, 1928-1936.

3. Nagaoka Shinkichi, Meiji kyokoshi josetsu [Introduction to the

history of Meiji-era depressions]. Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1971.

Mark Metzler is assistant professor of Japanese history at Oakland

University. When in Japan, he makes his home in Osaka. He is currently

completing a book, Global Money and the Crisis of Liberalism, on the

gold standard and its collapse in early twentieth century Japan.

Subject(s):Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
Geographic Area(s):Asia
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII